The Value of Everything

The way we count how big our economy is gets determined by a set of changeable decisions. Those decisions have changed over time, and they can change in the future.

That is a major theme from the 2017 book The Value of Everything by economist Mariana Mazzucato.

Below I share my notes from reading the book, which are for my own purposes for review later.

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The Age of AI

Artificial intelligence will be considered a new epoch in human history. The Enlightenment was defined by the age of reason, in which a process could ensure humans develop new and tested knowledge. Increasingly though, algorithmic learning is developing so rapidly that no human entirely understands the recommendations that AI makes. This will be seen as entirely new age.

So argues the Age of AI: And Our Human Future, a 2021 book written by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and AI researcher Daniel Huttenlocher. That big idea was argued in an article Kissinger wrote for The Atlantic in 2018 entitled: How the Enlightenment Ends.

The book is neither dystopian nor breathlessly optimistic. It is not full of rich stories nor colorful visions. It is a clear-eyed book directed toward policymakers and business leaders. It outlines its authors view of current research and understanding about where AI research is heading.

I collected notes from the book below. I recommend reading it.

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Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing

Money is a useful collaborative fiction to exchange and transfer value.

The 2020 book from former NPR Planet Money podcast co-host and economics reporter Jacob Goldstein is a fun and approachable social history of what we call money. It is light and breezy, full of familiar themes to those already interested in finance and economics while also a good starting point for someone who isn’t.

I captured notes for myself below. Go buy the book yourself.

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Lenape Country before William Penn

The Lenape people controlled their territory, and they meaningfully shaped the society that developed in present-day Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

So argues the 2016 book Lenape Country Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn written by Lehigh University professor Jean R. Soderlund. A prevailing narrative is of a relatively weak and minor subgroup of the Alqonquian people but this book argues something more nuanced.

Other big themes: early Swedish settlers remained primarily trading partners with the Lenape, which contrasted with the Dutch and the English who over time seemed more interested in colonizing, though the English Quakers were on the whole far more peaceable than the Chesapeake, New Amsterdam and New England regions. The Lenape themselves shaped this reality.

This is a rich social-political history of the earliest recorded details of Lenape life. I strongly recommend buying a copy if you love history and the details of indigenous and European engagement. As is my custom, I share notes from my reading below for my future reference but please do pick up a copy.

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Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid

The universe isn’t remarkable because of stuff. It is remarkable because of the relationship between stuff.

That is something like a theme from the iconic and celebrated 1979 book by academic Douglas Hofstadter called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which won both Nobel and Pulitzer prizes. An entire secondary marketplace of ideas and debate centers around the meaning and intention of the book, so I will not attempt to contribute to that. The book did influence computer science, especially the development of artificial intelligence, but Hofstader has said he does not identify with technology or computer culture.

Overall, the dense book brims with interdisciplinary “strange loops,” or examples of the interrelationships between concepts that create systems.The book’s title comes famously from naming three men influential in very different fields: influential Hungarian-American logician Kurt Gödel (1906-1978); Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher (1898-1972) and legendary classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). All their work are used as examples of strange loops. I share a few notes below that I may return to in the future.

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Write more effective resolutions

It’s a new year! As much as 40% of Americans make new year’s resolutions each year but fewer than 1 in 10 report sticking to them. I wrote my first resolutions as a teenager, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t in holding yourself accountable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that I thought might help some of you!

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My 2022 resolutions

If 2020 was a collapse, 2021 was a timid rebound. I hope to return to goals of 2019 with newfound learning and momentum to make 2022 something special.

Last year was a step back toward friends and family, thanks to a historic vaccination program and despite ensuing covid variants. I’m optimistic for continuing the development of a post-pandemic world — even though we know now that covid will almost certainly transition into a new seasonal affliction.

I see hopeful sign posts. I have plans to attend a wedding in each of the first four months of this year, all of which were postponed at least once, and they are planned to have the good food and dancing that any good wedding of old once had. For at least two of them, SACMW and I will be staying in hotels, while our baby stays with a grandparent; I understand these were once fairly normal acts in The Before Times but they’re novel, and downright exciting, to me now.

I am very eager to return to some form of travel in 2022 but it all feels so uncertain. So, though I initially considered resolutions like “Use my passport again” and “Get on a plane,” the pandemic and new parenthood combined kept those off the list for this year. Nonetheless, I have high hopes for next year.

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My 2021 review

This year was better than 2020 but boy it brought its own historic stresses.

I am thankful for the remarkable vaccination program, for frontline workers, fiscal stimulus and the limitless inventiveness of humanity. I saw more family and friends this year than in 2020. My coworkers and I got ourselves to a stronger position than where we were even in 2019. I’ve regained a balance on knowing I am both extraordinarily fortunate and regularly challenged by the world.

Earlier this year, burnout caught up to me, and I had to confront those demons. I took a step back from social media and spent more time with my baby daughter and good books. Much of what I loved about my life in 2019 is still on a pandemic pause (travel, routine restaurant visits, indoor events and more). I found ritual and joy and added new habits. No matter how much this pandemic changes the world for good, I’ve changed — as a parent, the owner of a remote-only company and just a bit older and more experienced.

Thank you to so many who helped me grow this year. I hope I contributed at least as much.

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I bought my daughter an NFT

Constrained ownership of digital assets could mean thrilling possibilities.

The chaotic pandemic contributed to a frenzied focus on a new stage for non-fungible tokens. I was introduced to the concept a few years back and followed with interest the explosion of attention more recently. I wanted to purchase an NFT to become more familiar with the process, to support an artist and, most importantly, to give my young daughter a small slice of this strange moment in time.

The process is still quite clunky, expensive and fairly confusing — with multiple related systems. It helped that I also recently went through a similar process to chip into a DAO.

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A Brief History of Time: Stephen Hawking’s 1988 classic theoretical physics book

A single “theory of everything” exists. We just haven’t found it yet.

That’s one of the main arguments from theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), as articulated in his 1988 bestselling book A Brief History of Time. The book helped make him one of his generation’s best known intellectuals, and he used an array of impressive technologies to help him continue to shape public thought during his long battle with ALS. It helped popularize many obscure and complex ideas.

Though he didn’t win a Nobel Prize in his lifetime and he occupied a kind of celebrity status, he did contribute meaningfully to his field. In 1974, in his early 30s, Hawking argued that black holes would emit heat energy, so-called Hawking radiation, which would mean that, unless they otherwise added mass, a black hole could eventually vanish. He helped us discover that black holes might not even be, you know, black. That work gave him needed pedigree to write this book, which is a relatively breezy read while also citing much of the most exciting ideas in theoretical physics and even cosmology.

As a hobbyist consumer of pop science, I’ve long wanted to read this text. Much of what he wrote about has been covered by an array of science Youtubers and writers I follow. Yet I still got much from the book. Do read it. Below I share my notes from the book for myself.

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